Sampson Carter had been waiting for this moment his entire life.
UMass senior forward Sampson Carter got some revenge against the team he grew up rooting for on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy Evan Sahagian, Massachusetts Daily Collegian)
The kid from Baton Rouge, La., grew up watching LSU basketball. He dreamed of playing for the Tigers, but when the time came for him to pick a school, there was no interest from them. Instead, he headed north to UMass as part of coach Derek Kellogg's first recruiting class.
On Tuesday, he got some revenge.
Carter scored 17 points – including the game-clinching free throws – and added six rebounds as the Minutemen held off LSU for a 92-90 win at the Mullins Center. The 6-foot-8 senior forward sunk four clutch free throws in the final 14 seconds as he put a stamp on another big non-conference victory for UMass.
“I just came out with a lot of ambition and fire,” Carter said when asked what it was like playing against LSU. “I came out, and I kind of was a little too fired up at the beginning, so I had to settle myself down and settle in. But man, I can't even explain the feeling of playing against them. I never thought I'd even get the chance to play them in my career here. So to play against them at home and get the win, on ESPN, it's a good feeling.”
Like in Sunday's victory over Boston College, Carter was aggressive early and often Tuesday, using his body to attack the basket and get to the free throw line – he made 11 of his game-high 15 attempts from the stripe. He was making nifty plays too, including a nice play with 7:50 left in the first half when he received a pass from Chaz Williams on the baseline, beat his defender off the dribble and finished an up-and-under as he was fouled.
Meet the new Sampson Carter, one a year removed from a nagging hip injury that limited his ability, and one who devoted his entire summer to getting back to 100 percent. If the first two games are any indication, he's well on his way to a breakout senior season.
“I dedicated the whole summer to my body, whether it was eating right and not missing a rep in the weight room, and just sacrificing a lot,” Carter said. “I feel tremendously strong out there and my bounce is back.”
Some more takeaways from the Minutemen's win against LSU:
Bergantino came up big: His final stat line may not exactly be telling, but backup UMass center Tyler Bergantino provided some productive minutes in Tuesday's contest.
The sophomore had just two points and two rebounds in nine minutes, but his most important contribution was helping the Minutemen ride a difficult storm in the first half without starting center Cady Lalanne, who left early in the first half with foul trouble. Tasked with defending LSU star Johnny O'Bryant, Bergantino wasn't spectacular, but effective as he tried his best keeping him in check. He picked up four fouls but did a good job in not letting O'Bryant take over, and even stopped him on a few occasions.
Lalanne took over in the second half: Once the storm was over, though, it was all Lalanne.
The story coming into this game was how Lalanne and his frontcourt mates would handle LSU's strong inside presence. Luckily for the Minutemen, though, they didn't have to worry about Tigers star freshman Jarell Martin, who left the game in the first minute and never returned with a sprained ankle. That made life easier for Lalanne, but it wasn't until the second half that he really kicked it into gear.
Lalanne played 16 second-half minutes and scored 16 points on 8-for-9 shooting. He ended up fouling out, but his presence was a game-changer again, two days after his career performance against BC.
“That's Cady Lalanne being Cady Lalanne,” UMass point guard Chaz Williams said. “The world has yet to see that, so us teammates make sure we tell him, 'Go out there and dominate every game and make the world realize that you are potentially one of the best big men in the country,' and that's what he's trying to do.”
Gordon was better, but not great: Transfer guard Derrick Gordon had a tough debut Sunday against BC. He had just seven points on 2-of-12 shooting and turned the ball over five times.
On Tuesday, he wasn't much better, but he was certainly better, as he scored eight points and pulled down seven rebounds in the win. Gordon provided energy on the defensive end too, even flying into press row (and knocking out a broadcaster from WMUA in the process) as he chased down a loose ball.
Gordon is certainly still adjusting back to real game action after not getting any in about 20 months, but he's certainly someone to keep an eye going forward as someone to improve. UMass will eventually need him to perform at the level he's capable of during the stretch run of the season.
What's next: The Minutemen will stay at home as they host up-and-coming Youngstown State at the Mullins Center this Sunday at 1 p.m. After winning two games in less than 48 hours, a five-day break from game action is certainly a worthy reward for UMass.